Fabulous though depressing biography of the sybaritic, gargantuan producer of The African Queen, The Bridge on the River...


SPIEGEL: The Man Behind the Pictures

Fabulous though depressing biography of the sybaritic, gargantuan producer of The African Queen, The Bridge on the River Kwai, On the Waterfront, and Lawrence of Arabia; from Sinclair, who knew and at one time worked with Spiegel, and who's authored John Ford (1979), Corsair: The Life of J. Pierpont Morgan (1981), etc. Sam Spiegel, known also as S.P. Eagle, ranks with Goldwyn, Mayer, Thalberg, and Selznik as a giant film producer interested in class and his personal stamp on a film. His greatest works found him engaged with every facet of filmmaking, especially the endless preproduction work on the script (often for years) and the postproduction final cut. His was a byzantine career, founded on limitless, twinkling charm and a gift for conning everyone, but foundering on a loneliness that his thousands of young bedmates never filled. Towards the end, trying everything, he even enjoyed the companionship of a blond-wigged male transvestite, though his interest in fresh girls did not flag until his 80s, when he settled at last for a 19-year-old live-in ballet dancer. Who loved him. A self-educated Polish Jew, Spiegel later claimed to be an Austrian and, when making Lawrence of Arabia on the Jordanian desert, a Christian, or at least ""not a Jew."" His early career found him as a Young Pioneer in Palestine, a tobacco trader, a cotton trader, a Hollywood script reader, a film producer in Berlin and Vienna, and serving three separate jail terms for passing bad checks in various countries. Spiegel made it a matter of principle never to pay his tailors, his vast hotel bills, or any bill he could escape or pass on to others. His New Year's Eve parties in Hollywood during WW II were famous, though each one found a new caterer unpaid. During each film, he lived off the fat of the budget. Said Billy Wilder, a fellow Central European immigrant: ""It's the old story, if you woke up in a motel with a dead whore who'd been stabbed, who would you call? D'you know, Sam Spiegel."" Sinclair's best book yet is spellbinding as Spiegel cons Marlon Brando, John Huston, Alec Guinness, David Lean, Harold Pinter, Bogie and Hepburn, etc., etc.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1987


Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1987